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Polonium: Harmless Unless Ingested

Following the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, British authorities are following a trail of radioactive contamination. Litvinenko died from the effects of absorbing a rare radioactive element, Polonium 210.

Polonium is a naturally occurring element. There are trace quantities in the soil, minuscule amounts in seafood and in consumer products, such as anti-static brushes found in photo shops.

Although it is described as one of the "nastier radioactive isotopes," Polonium is harmless unless it gets inside your body, through ingestion or a puncture wound, for example.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.